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A masterful portrait of a tragic crucible in the settlement of the American heartland - the 'Children's Blizzard' of 1888. The gripping story of an epic prairie snowstorm that killed hundreds of newly arrived settlers and cast a shadow on the promise of the American frontier. January 12, 1888, began as an unseasonably warm morning across Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota A masterful portrait of a tragic crucible in the settlement of the American heartland - the 'Children's Blizzard' of 1888. The gripping story of an epic prairie snowstorm that killed hundreds of newly arrived settlers and cast a shadow on the promise of the American frontier. January 12, 1888, began as an unseasonably warm morning across Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, the weather so mild that children walked to school without coats and gloves. But that afternoon, without warning, the atmosphere suddenly, violently changed. One moment the air was calm; the next the sky exploded in a raging chaos of horizontal snow and hurricane-force winds. Temperatures plunged as an unprecedented cold front ripped through the center of the continent. By Friday morning, January 13, some five hundred people lay dead on the drifted prairie, many of them children who had perished on their way home from country schools. In a few terrifying hours, the hopes of the pioneers had been blasted by the bitter realities of their harsh environment. Recent immigrants from Germany, Norway, Denmark, and the Ukraine learned that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled. With the storm as its dramatic, heartbreaking focal point, The Children's Blizzard captures this pivotal moment in American history by tracing the stories of five families who were forever changed that day. Drawing on family interviews and memoirs, as well as hundreds of contemporary accounts, David Laskin creates an intimate picture of the men, women, and children who made choices they would regret as long as they lived. Here too is a meticulous account of the evolution of the storm and the vain struggle of government forecasters to track its progress. The blizzard of January 12, 1888, is still remembered on the prairie. Children fled that day while their teachers screamed into the relentless roar. Husbands staggered into the blinding wind in search of wives. Fathers collapsed while trying to drag their children to safety. In telling the story of this meteorological catastrophe, the deadliest blizzard ever to hit the prairie states, David Laskin has produced a masterful portrait of a tragic crucible in the settlement of the American heartland.


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A masterful portrait of a tragic crucible in the settlement of the American heartland - the 'Children's Blizzard' of 1888. The gripping story of an epic prairie snowstorm that killed hundreds of newly arrived settlers and cast a shadow on the promise of the American frontier. January 12, 1888, began as an unseasonably warm morning across Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota A masterful portrait of a tragic crucible in the settlement of the American heartland - the 'Children's Blizzard' of 1888. The gripping story of an epic prairie snowstorm that killed hundreds of newly arrived settlers and cast a shadow on the promise of the American frontier. January 12, 1888, began as an unseasonably warm morning across Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, the weather so mild that children walked to school without coats and gloves. But that afternoon, without warning, the atmosphere suddenly, violently changed. One moment the air was calm; the next the sky exploded in a raging chaos of horizontal snow and hurricane-force winds. Temperatures plunged as an unprecedented cold front ripped through the center of the continent. By Friday morning, January 13, some five hundred people lay dead on the drifted prairie, many of them children who had perished on their way home from country schools. In a few terrifying hours, the hopes of the pioneers had been blasted by the bitter realities of their harsh environment. Recent immigrants from Germany, Norway, Denmark, and the Ukraine learned that their free homestead was not a paradise but a hard, unforgiving place governed by natural forces they neither understood nor controlled. With the storm as its dramatic, heartbreaking focal point, The Children's Blizzard captures this pivotal moment in American history by tracing the stories of five families who were forever changed that day. Drawing on family interviews and memoirs, as well as hundreds of contemporary accounts, David Laskin creates an intimate picture of the men, women, and children who made choices they would regret as long as they lived. Here too is a meticulous account of the evolution of the storm and the vain struggle of government forecasters to track its progress. The blizzard of January 12, 1888, is still remembered on the prairie. Children fled that day while their teachers screamed into the relentless roar. Husbands staggered into the blinding wind in search of wives. Fathers collapsed while trying to drag their children to safety. In telling the story of this meteorological catastrophe, the deadliest blizzard ever to hit the prairie states, David Laskin has produced a masterful portrait of a tragic crucible in the settlement of the American heartland.

30 review for The Children's Blizzard

  1. 4 out of 5

    Carmen

    Even worse than the whiteout was the agony of his eyes when he tried to see through the snow. The fine hard pellets blew into his eyes and made them water. Walter cried and the snow mixed with his tears until it formed a crust between the upper and lower lids. Instinctively he reached up to brush the crust away with the back of his hand. Soon his eyeballs were inflamed, which further distorted his vision. The pain became so acute that it felt better to let the ice crust build. Tears and blowing Even worse than the whiteout was the agony of his eyes when he tried to see through the snow. The fine hard pellets blew into his eyes and made them water. Walter cried and the snow mixed with his tears until it formed a crust between the upper and lower lids. Instinctively he reached up to brush the crust away with the back of his hand. Soon his eyeballs were inflamed, which further distorted his vision. The pain became so acute that it felt better to let the ice crust build. Tears and blowing snow melded together and sealed his eyes shut tightly. There was no way to break the seal except by tearing the tender skin. Once Walter's eyes were gone, the rest of his face went fast. A mask of ice covered the exposed skin of his face except for holes at the nostrils and mouth. Snow penetrated his clothing and froze into an armor of ice around his body. All of this happened in moments. pg. 136 Entertainment Weekly describes this as "Heartbreaking... This account of the 1888 blizzard reads like a thriller." I don't think that is accurate. Yes, it is emotional. I would agree with that. "Reads like a thriller" is a bit of a stretch IMO. Laskin tries his best to be dramatic, which is uncalled for IMO, but it doesn't read like a thriller. Perhaps it would if Laskin would stick to the blizzard itself, but instead he wants to give us a clearer and more comprehensive picture. That's good, but it doesn't make for a seamless, exciting read that I would expect when I hear the word "thriller." I think this book can pretty much be summed up with one phrase: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The parallels between 1888 and now are incredible. Let's take a look at what Laskin is doing in this book. ONE: IMMIGRATION The Norwegians, the Schweizers, the Ukranians... people were immigrants coming to the United States. Why were people leaving Norway? Because they were poor. Beauty was abundant and free in the countryside of Tinn – but you couldn't eat beauty, and the beautiful farms were yielding less and less while the population steadily grew. But they were comparatively lucky in Tinn. Elsewhere in Telemark the farm fields had become so small from repeated division that farmers had to harvest the hay that grew on the thatch of their roofs and grow vegetables by spreading dirt and manure on top of rocks. It was a sad, haunted country for all its beauty. Men in the prime of their lives built their coffins and stored them inside until they were needed. pg. 11 The Schweizers, another immigrant group discussed in this book, were hated for their religious beliefs. Rather than baptize their infants a few days after birth, the Schweizers waited until they were old enough to choose baptism as a “confession of faith.” They advocated complete separation of church and state and refused to serve in armed forces or fight in wars. For these beliefs, particularly the last, they had been crammed into the prisons of Bern, sold as galley slaves to Venetian merchants, branded, flogged, burned at the stake, and hounded through Europe. pg. 14 Nowadays people also come to the U.S. of A. because they are poor or because they are fleeing persecution. The immigrants were brought to the U.S. of A. on stinking, filthy ships. Of his own quarters belowdecks, Osten mentioned only that he and his mother were shocked to find “nothing more than hard boards – and... plenty of lice,” but one can imagine the squalor of the unventilated bunk rooms packed with 650 immigrants. pg. 18 Immigrant children often died and the scary possibility of being separated from your kids was looming. A harrowing story was told by Finnish immigrants of one of their countrywomen who went into labor just as her immigrant ship anchored off the Battery. The woman was taken to a hospital on shore and forced to leave her baggage and her two-year-old daughter unattended on board the ship. While she was in the hospital, the ship returned to Europe. pg. 24 Immigrants were treated like shit. Laskin tells one story of a train that refused let the immigrants buy food at stops, this was only stopped by a Mennonite rebellion. Children were told they would be beaten if they spoke German in school. Before the fall term started, Wilhelm and Catherina warned Lena that no German could be spoken in school. Only English. Sometimes children were beaten if they spoke a foreign language. The teacher might even change her name. Woebbecke might be too hard for Stella Badger to say. pg. 33 Almost all the immigrants change their names from their German, Swiss, Norwegian and Ukranian names to "American" names. Both last names and first names are changed. The pressure to conform and to fit in was great. These people were living in sod houses and in poverty. It was all they could do to tear enough sod off the prairie to make shelters for themselves. It took half an acre of Dakota sod for a decent-sized sod house. The soddies leaked when it rained (“I would wake up with dirty water running through my hair,” wrote one pioneer), gophers and snakes sometimes popped from the walls, dirt got ground into clothes, skin, and food, but they kept the families alive and relatively warm when winter arrived – which happened far earlier and far more savagely than any of the Schweizers had anticipated. pg. 34 They watched their children die. All winter long as the supply of food dwindled away, Anna looked at her son, Johann, her only child, grow thinner and more transparent. There were many days when they got by on burnt flour soup – flour scorched in the pan and then mixed with water, salt, and pepper. A poor diet for a growing child. A poor diet for a baby, if they had a baby to feed. Even had Peter survived the crossing to New York, he surely would have perished that first terrible winter. Would it have been worse to chisel a grave for the child in the frozen ground under the sod than see his body tossed into the sea? pg. 36 It was a dangerous place, summer or winter. They got down to work so quickly they didn't have time to figure out the vagaries of soil and climate, the cycles of the seasons, the fickle violent moods of the sky. Deprived of both the folk wisdom born of deep familiarity with a single place and the brash abstractions of the new science, the pioneers were vulnerable and exposed. There hadn't been time to put up fences. Children waded into tall grass and vanished. Infants were accidentally dropped in snowdrifts. Infections flourished in the primitive, unsanitary claim shanties. pg 3 We haven't even gotten to the blizzard yet! I truly enjoyed how Laskin painted the life of immigrants trying to raise their families on the prairie. I wonder if certain people have completely forgotten about this: what it was like. To be a poor immigrant in a new country. To be hated for being poor and not being able to speak English. To be treated like trash because you weren't born here. To watch your children suffer. It's not 2019 - It's 1888. THE BLIZZARD Here, Laskin breaks off into a few threads. Some threads are more interesting than others. Let's examine them! 1.) THE STORM This is fascinating. It's hard to understand the magnitude of the storm and it's terror, especially from a modern perspective. Laskin does an amazing job illustrating it for readers. One moment it was mild, the sun was shining, a damp wind blew fitfully out of the south – the next moment frozen hell had broken loose. The air was so thick with find-ground wind-lashed ice crystals that people could not breathe. The ice dust webbed their eyelashes and sealed their eyes shut. It sifted into the loose weave of their coats, shirts, dresses, and underwear until their skin was packed in snow. Farmers who spent a decade walking the same worn paths became disoriented in seconds. pg. 6 ... An impenetrable crust formed on top of the re-frozen slush. Cattle desperate for food cut their muzzles on the shards of ice that covered the sparse grass. Steers bled to death when the crust gave way beneath them and the ice sliced open their legs. …. Cattle had drifted hundreds of miles before they froze to death or died or exhaustion or suffocated from the ice plugging their nostrils. Some herds were never found; some where found in riverbeds or ravines, heaped up like slag; some were so badly frostbitten that ranchers were reduced to salvaging their hides. Come spring, when the snow finally melted, flooded rivers carried the carcasses of thousands of cattle that had frozen to death during the winter – raging torrents choked with dead animals wedged between ice floes. pg. 62 ... It's hard to fathom how children who walked to and from school a half mile or more every day became exhausted to the point of collapse while walking a hundred yards that afternoon. Hard to fathom until you consider the state of their thin cotton clothing, their eyelashes webbed with ice and frozen shut, the ice plugs that formed in their noses, the ice masks that hung on their faces. This was not a feathery sifting of gossamer powder. It was a frozen sandstorm. Cattle died standing up, died of suffocation before they froze solid. pg. 162 Laskin also offers good, long, brutal explanations of what happens to you when you freeze to death. It's fascinating and horrifying and he does a great job writing about this. It goes on for pages. The horrors of the storm are legion. The catalog of their suffering is terrible. They froze alone or with their parents or perished in frantic, hopeless pursuit of loved ones. They died with the frozen bloody skin torn from their faces, where they had clawed off the mask of ice again and again. Some died within hours of getting lost; some lived through the night and died before first light. They were found standing waist deep in drifts with their hands frozen to barbed-wire frences, clutching at straw piles, buried under overturned wagons, on their backs, facedown on the snow with their arms outstretched as if trying to crawl. Mothers died sitting up with their children around them in fireless houses when the hay or coal or bits of furniture were exhausted and they were too weak or too frightened to go for more. pg. 198 Laskin also does a wonderful job illustrating how you can't judge people for what actions you took. No matter what action you took, you could die. Stay in the school. Try to go home. Didn't matter - people died either way. Two people could take the same path and one could die and one could live. Two could take a different path - and the one you think will survive ends up dying horribly. There's no right answer. There's no 'smart thing to do.' Sometimes it seems like pure luck and chance are the only factors keeping certain people alive. The survivors were never the same. Johann set the rock-hard bodies on the floor next to the stove. Anna looked at her dead sons and began to laugh. She couldn't help herself. Her husband and her two little boys turned to her in disbelief but Anna didn't stop. It would be days before they could get the bodies into coffins. Anna laughed. pg. 232 ... Dowling's frostbite was so advanced that he lost both legs below the knees, his left arm below the elbow, and all the fingers and most of the thumb on his right hand. But Dowling was a fighter. He lived on to became [sic] a teacher, a newspaper editor, and eventually speaker of the house of the Minnesota State Legislature. “It is what one has above the shoulders that counts,” he always told fellow amputees. pg. 59 There's no pat ending. People suffered and died. They end. There's no gold at the end of the book here, no note of triumph. The people involved who did survive more often than not had sad endings to their stories anyway. Don't expect an uplifting book. Even the survivors usually came to a miserable end one way or another. 2.) WEATHER Laskin focuses a whole entire (IMO) boring section on weather forecasting. He explains what a shoddy system the U.S. of A. had for predicting weather in 1888. It wasn't so much that the technology was shit, it was that the people running it (Signal Corps) were corrupt. They let 'distinguished visitors' try their hands at predicting weather if they came to the station. They had a lot of in-fighting and corruption. They only cared about themselves and their own positions and pocketbooks and not about saving lives. This is a good and important point, but unfortunately not a very interesting one. And Laskin devotes dozen's of pages to the in-fighting which, frankly, is boring as hell. The main important point is that in December 1889, President Benjamin Harrison took the privilege of weather reporting away from the Army Signal Corps and gave it to the Department of Agriculture. WHY? Not because hundreds of poor immigrants and little children froze to death on the prairie on January 12, 1888. Honestly, NO ONE GAVE A FUCK that some immigrants died. Not the Army, not the government. And children's lives were not valued and DIDN'T MEAN SHIT in 1888. No, the reason Harrison made that decision was because RICH, IMPORTANT people who lived in NEW YORK CITY were dying, and money-making stopped on March 11-14, 1888. Heaven forbid RICH PEOPLE were in danger or inconvenienced. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. 1888 or 2019? Today a “surprise” storm that killed over 200 people would instigate a fierce outcry in the press, vigorous official hand-wringing, and a flood of reports by every government agency remotely involved, starting with the National Weather Service. But in the Gilded Age, blame for the suffering attendant on an act of God was left unassigned. pg. 254 If it weren't for the blizzard that affected NYC, probably nothing would have changed. Immigrants were considered trash whose lives didn't matter, and children in general were seen as workhorses and not human beings. They called it “The School Children's Blizzard” because so many of the victims were so young – but in a way the entire pioneer period was a kind of children's disaster. Children were the unpaid workforce of the prairie, the hands that did the work that no one else had time for or stomach for. The outpouring of grief after scores of children were found frozen to death among the cattle on Friday, January 13, was at least in part an expression of remorse for what children were subjected to every day – remorse for the fact that most children had no childhood. This was a society that could not afford to sentimentalize its living and working children. Only in death or on the verge of death were the young granted the heroine funds, the long columns of sobbing verse, the stately granite monuments. A safe and carefree childhood was a luxury the pioneer prairie could not afford. pg. 269 Yes, but this was the case for any time in the past. Not really unique to this situation. Laskin wants to make this about immigrant children in 1888, but urban or rural, forced to work on farms or forced to work in factories, children were considered a burden and free labor. For most of history this was going on. It's not specific to this time or place. William Klemp, a newly married Dakotan in the full vigor of young manhood, left his pregnant wife at home and went out in the storm to care for their livestock. He never returned. A few weeks later, Klemp's wife gave birth to a son. It was spring when they found his body in a sod shanty a mile from the house. Klemp's face had been eaten away by mice and gophers. pg. 199 TL;DR What can I tell you about this book? Is it worth reading? I thought it was. Unfortunately, weather is a bit of a pet interest of Laskin's and he does tend to go on and on about weather forecasting and the inner politics of the Signal Corps. I think this could have been shortened considerably. But the book has a lot of strengths. Great descriptions of the storm and how it killed. Clear illustrations about how a storm could kill someone (it might be baffling to modern readers how SO MANY people could have died). Laskin makes it easier to understand - we are talking about a different time. Countless witnesses wrote that visibility was so poor at the height of the blizzard that you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. It's tempting to dismiss this as hyperbole or a figure of speech – but there is in fact a meteorological basis for these claims... the snow that day was as fine-grained as flour or sand... a woman froze to death with her key in her hand just steps from her door. pg. 135 Wonderful analysis of what freezing to death is like and interesting tidbits about the science of freezing to death. Before paradoxical undressing was identified, police routinely mistook hypothermic women with torn or missing clothing for victims of sexual assault. The reaction explains a disturbing incident in military history. After a brutal three-day storm in January 1719, hundreds of Swedish soldiers were found stripped and dead in the field in the wake of a disastrous campaign against Norway. At the time it was assumed they had been plundered by their comrades, but now doctors believe that they tore off their own clothes as their minds and bodies went mad with cold – a mass outbreak of paradoxical undressing. pg. 194 ... People freezing to death sometimes find they are unaccountably happy and relaxed. They feel flushed with a sudden glow of well-being. They love the world and everything in it. They want to sing. They hear heavenly music. As the mind and the body amicably part company, the freezing person looks down on himself as if he's hovering overhead or already in heaven or a returning ghost. There is his body, lying miserable in the snow, but somehow he is no longer trapped in it. He is gazing at his corpse and walking on. He's telling the story of his miraculous escape. pg. 192 Laskin uses The Little Match Girl to illustrate this. You might be familiar with the story. Laskin is less clear about how the NYC storm was the one that finally got things going. I did some research and found that stuff out. He mentions it in passing, but the actual idea is stunning. It takes rich people to be affected by something for any change about it to happen. Like now, back then the government and the society didn't give a fuck what happened to the poor. Natural disasters get a lot more press, action, change, repair and attention when they hit rich areas. Reading the book really opened my eyes to just how little the world has changed since 1888. We'd like to think we've come so far and become so advanced as a society: but in reality we face a lot of the same problems. Often I was shocked with how similar 1888 was to 2019. Reading about white, European immigrants coming to America and being treated as trash. Of course - I knew about that, but the book illustrates it in a way that boggles you. The complete disregard for the lives of poor immigrants also really struck me. Everything seems to be about race nowadays - and race is a huge factor in hatred and dismissal nowadays, it's true - but this book illustrates that the rich have always hated and dismissed the poor and regarded them as disposable trash regardless of having the same skin color or not. Now people label Spanish-speakers as "filthy foreigners who don't speak English," but back then it was the Norwegians, the Germans, the Irish, the Ukranians. REMEMBER THIS. I'd advise ANYONE to study this kind of thing. People say that in England they focus on class and not race and in America they focus on race and not class, but BOTH are important factors in how people are treated. TAKE NOTE.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Melki

    When he looked up at the sky, Austin saw the snow descend "as if it had slid out of a sack. A hurricane-like wind blew, so that the snow drifted high in the air, and it became terribly cold. Within a few minutes it was as dark as a cellar, and one could not see one's hand in front of one's face." January 12, 1888 dawned with unseasonably warm temperatures. Children left their winter gear at home, and walked to school in thin cotton dresses and shirtsleeves. Later that afternoon a storm ripped acr When he looked up at the sky, Austin saw the snow descend "as if it had slid out of a sack. A hurricane-like wind blew, so that the snow drifted high in the air, and it became terribly cold. Within a few minutes it was as dark as a cellar, and one could not see one's hand in front of one's face." January 12, 1888 dawned with unseasonably warm temperatures. Children left their winter gear at home, and walked to school in thin cotton dresses and shirtsleeves. Later that afternoon a storm ripped across Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota. Teachers, many of them teenagers themselves, panicked. Some tried to keep children indoors; others fearing fuel supplies would quickly be depleted, sent their students home. A few teachers tried to lead their charges to the nearest house only to be separated from them in the howling wind and swirling snow. By midnight, windchill temperatures reached 40 below zero. By morning on Friday, January 13th, more than a hundred children lay dead on the Dakota-Nebraska prairie . . . In the author's attempts to explain the failure of early weather forecasters to predict this storm, and warn the settlers in its path, much of this book ends up reading like a meteorology textbook. There are pages brimming with blustery details involving air pressure and cold fronts. I have to confess to occasionally cracking open the pages whenever I needed a nap. But then, midway through the book, the storm hits, and the results are devastating. When the cloud descended from the northwest and filled the air with snow, they had no warning. Unaware of the risk, they wandered out in pursuit of a single precious cow and lost their way between sod hut and barn. Their fuel gave out, their roofs blew off, their animals suffocated. Their children froze to death in the furrows of their fields. I knew it was coming. I thought I was prepared to read about children dying. I was not. Laskin is unrelenting in his descriptions of hypothermia. He unstintingly relates the horrifying effects of frostbite. He then imagines the last moments of these lost children's lives. There's really nothing more to say. This book is as hard to write about as it was to read. "O God, is it my fault or yours that I find my three boys frozen here like the beasts of the field." ~ Johann Kaufmann

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    "After that day, the sky never looked the same."This is another book I read because it is required reading for one of the first year writing seminars I am the librarian for. (No, the librarians are not required to read along, I just like to.) This is the story of the sudden, devastating blizzard that came up almost without warning across the plains in January 1888. It came a few years after "the long winter" of Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood. Laskin weaves together historical accounts from newly "After that day, the sky never looked the same."This is another book I read because it is required reading for one of the first year writing seminars I am the librarian for. (No, the librarians are not required to read along, I just like to.) This is the story of the sudden, devastating blizzard that came up almost without warning across the plains in January 1888. It came a few years after "the long winter" of Laura Ingalls Wilder's childhood. Laskin weaves together historical accounts from newly immigrated families, most of them Scandinavian or Ukrainian and horribly unprepared for a regular winter much less such a storm as this. He discusses the history of weather forecasting, what the government was expected to provide, and whether or not they "should" have seen it coming. Here's one weather reporter's account:"The air, for about one (1) minute, was perfectly calm, and voices and noises on the street below appeared as though emanating from great depths. A peculiar 'hush' prevailed over everything. In the next minute the sky was completely overcast by a heavy black cloud, which had in a few minutes previously hung suspended along the western and northwestern horizon, and the wind veered to the west with such violence as to render the observer's position very safe. The air was immediately filled with snow as fine as sifted flour... In five minutes after the wind changed the outlines of objects fifteen (15) feet away were not discernible."I was a geeky kid who held her NOAA pamphlets close to her chest and pretended to be in hurricanes and tornados and floods, in the northwest where we might get a flood but never anything else. So for me, the history of weather prediction and reporting was really interesting. Remember the super cyclones in the movie The Day After Tomorrow that seem so ridiculous and impossible? There are descriptions of similar freezing wind patterns that simultaneously pull down the cold wave of air and turn snow into instant powder, creating death masks of impenetrable ice for the poor souls who happen to be trying to find their homes. The blizzard became known as the children's blizzard because it hit during the time of day many children were returning home from school, and several hundred died, often just outside their home or school. If you're squeamish the detailed descriptions of freezing to death may not make this the book for you. One thing that I feel the author left out, and maybe there are other books that talk about this more, but he doesn't mention the thousands of indigenous populations that surely would have been effected by this and other storms. Most of the people in the book were recent immigrants, and it is possible he stuck to what he could find in the written record. But ever since then, I've been thinking about extreme weather situations, wondering what the various tribes did in these cases. Someone point me to a book!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    I have heard of this before. the blizzard that killed over 200 children and adults Settlers coming from Europe to the Dakotas for the opportunity to own land and for some being able to practice their own religions, such as the Quakers and Mennonites. MAny lost children on the way over in the ships, and many arrived to late to plant for that season and lost children to starvation. MAny had only flour and would make a burnt flour soup, containing only flour and water. Heartbreaking. The relief soc I have heard of this before. the blizzard that killed over 200 children and adults Settlers coming from Europe to the Dakotas for the opportunity to own land and for some being able to practice their own religions, such as the Quakers and Mennonites. MAny lost children on the way over in the ships, and many arrived to late to plant for that season and lost children to starvation. MAny had only flour and would make a burnt flour soup, containing only flour and water. Heartbreaking. The relief socialites tried to help, but there were so many that were needy. Weather forecasting at that time was basically non existent, they were not allowed to mention the word tornado and did not believe a hurricane would ever touch their coasts. They were happy if the weather was right occasionally. The immigrants were not familiar with the climate nor the soils and most had used of their funds just to get here. The children who walked to school, walked over a mile among prairies that were so tall that some got lost. When the snow hit they were not warned, and many were lost in the snow that piled up so quickly. Some of the teachers managed to get their students to safety but by the time the snow let up between 2 and 3 hundred people were dead. Hardy people and a heartbreaking story.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Vegan

    Thanks to Goodreads friend Melki I have an owned copy that I could read at my leisure. I was able to return a less than pleasant to read library copy as soon as I received it. It was such a pleasure to read a basically pristine copy. The only times I normally get to do that is when I manage to get a new book in the first batch the library lends out. So, I thought this was going to be a 5 star book for me but it wasn’t. I did really like it and I’m glad I read it. It’s a 3 ½ star book. I’m upping Thanks to Goodreads friend Melki I have an owned copy that I could read at my leisure. I was able to return a less than pleasant to read library copy as soon as I received it. It was such a pleasure to read a basically pristine copy. The only times I normally get to do that is when I manage to get a new book in the first batch the library lends out. So, I thought this was going to be a 5 star book for me but it wasn’t. I did really like it and I’m glad I read it. It’s a 3 ½ star book. I’m upping it because it’s an important story and it’s unique in writing in such detail about the subject. So the good and the middling and the bad: I admired the in depth research that was done and appreciated the mentions of sources, and there were many. I liked that for those affected there was some background information and post blizzard information about many of them. The biographical information pre-settling in the area and in the U.S. and also the conditions they faced on the prairie, including horrible weather prior to this particular blizzard and other forms of bad luck, added a lot to the account. The people did come alive with all the information given about their lives. I ached for the people who didn’t make it and for their families. Some of the accounts were heartbreaking. I especially ached for the children who didn’t make it; especially those who’d already had difficult lives. The descriptions were phenomenal. The experiences of being in the storm were so well described. I’d had no idea. I learned a lot about blizzards and weather and what life was like on the prairie. The fact that most of these people lived hard lives before the storm was something I felt was crucial to know. It’s an important story and while well known in that area I hadn’t known about this storm or about day to day life in this area at that time. This book does a good job of explaining all that. I’m glad that the reader learns from the start who survives and who does not in some cases. Though there is more to say about the foreshadowing in my third, the bad, paragraph. What I was most impressed with was the description of the experiences of the blizzard. Presented are remarkable, astounding accounts and top-notch research. This isn’t really about the book but I was impressed that the author thanked Erik Larson (one of my favorite non-fiction writers) in his friends and family acknowledgements section. So, large portions of the book were a really slow read for me. I was grateful that I enjoy science including meteorology because there are large sections devoted to the weather. Just weather! Also there was a fair amount about the politics of the weather forecasting at the time. For me it started particularly slowly but once I really got to know some families and individuals and their circumstances, it helped. It was never a page-turner for me though, even though during the parts about the storm itself and some of the aftermath I certainly wanted to know what would happen with everyone. I love maps in books and the included map was very helpful and I frequently referred to it, but many places mentioned were not on the map. I’d have loved 2 maps, the one included and a much more detailed map in addition. While I liked all the background information, the amount devoted to weather in general, other things going on, including politics and some weather events on the east coast post blizzard, for me there was just a tad too much of that. They were interesting but for me took me out of the story a bit. I’d have rather done my own research and read other books to get that much detail. This is a minor quibble because some of that information was helpful to put the blizzard and its effects into context, but while I usually like detail some of the minutiae bored me. What I liked much less or not at all were several things. It’s really choppy. Each individual’s story is told a bit at a time and interspersed with many others’ stories. Sometimes that’s an effective technique for me and it should have worked here when the story was being told chronologically, but I found it annoying and confusing at times. I felt that there was a deliberate attempt to manipulate the readers’ emotions and it often read as a thriller. This account stands on its own and I don’t think it needed the extra drama or suspense. I didn’t like being led to firmly believe certain people must have died only to have them survive or vice versa. There was too much of that. A straight story would have worked best for me. I know this was well researched and accounts of survivors were used but, and this is one of my pet peeves in non-fiction when certain things just can’t be known, I think there is too much about the actions, motivations, thoughts, and feelings of those who died who weren’t with any witnesses who survived. (Of course as I read I thought that a lot but then it turned out some of them were survivors, but not all.) I was so glad that one person survived who I’d given up for dead (view spoiler)[ Walter (hide spoiler)] but I didn’t enjoy that much the process of getting to the conclusion of what happened to them. Ditto for a few other people. Just a note: All I can say is that human nature doesn’t change. The way the news was handled, to be attention grabbing and in serial form, to hook people to the story/stories as best they could, is exactly what happens today and maybe always has. Also, accounts about the news of heroines and donors and such, the author does touch on this though not enough because all I could think of as I read is how more of the children should have been honored for their bravery and compassion, those who died and those who lived, those who saved others and those who futilely tried their best to do that, doing their best to at least comfort other children. They were inspiring and their stories often extremely distressing. Even though it gets only 3 ½ stars from me I do recommend it to those interested in this blizzard, in life on the prairie, in American and immigrant history (so many people were mentioned I didn’t expect to see in this account!), and in well researched non-fiction. There are 17 pages of source notes, 4 pages of acknowledgements, and an index of 11 pages.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anne

    This is a powerful story, of an event little known outside the Upper Midwest. This is the story of a freak blizzard of incredible intensity, that left hundreds dead, many of them school children trying to make their way home from country schools. I've always been interested in the late 1800's, perhaps because of reading Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was young. The stories of the families told here are very moving. The technical information about the formation of the weather system occasionally made This is a powerful story, of an event little known outside the Upper Midwest. This is the story of a freak blizzard of incredible intensity, that left hundreds dead, many of them school children trying to make their way home from country schools. I've always been interested in the late 1800's, perhaps because of reading Laura Ingalls Wilder when I was young. The stories of the families told here are very moving. The technical information about the formation of the weather system occasionally made my eyes cross a bit, but I enjoyed most of the weather info as a scientific backdrop to a very human drama. I am always amazed at the extremes the early pioneers on the prairies experienced, and astounded at the fortitude they displayed. I find myself wondering if storms like this still occur, or if our technology has progressed to a point where we no longer find ourselves as vulnerable to these winter storms. Would we see this as "just a snowstorm" today? Or would we find ourselves to be just as vulnerable facing a blizzard like this today?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Poiema

    This book was reviewed in our local newspaper several years ago, and I cut out the article thinking it would be an interesting read. I happened upon it in a museum bookstore, recognized the title, and brought it home. I live in Nebraska, the setting for this terrible and true weather story and I had heard of the blizzard of 1888 when I took a tour of our state capitol some years back. I seem to remember there is some art work depicting this tragic event in the capitol building. The author is meti This book was reviewed in our local newspaper several years ago, and I cut out the article thinking it would be an interesting read. I happened upon it in a museum bookstore, recognized the title, and brought it home. I live in Nebraska, the setting for this terrible and true weather story and I had heard of the blizzard of 1888 when I took a tour of our state capitol some years back. I seem to remember there is some art work depicting this tragic event in the capitol building. The author is meticulous in his research, and you get to know half a dozen immigrant families really well by the end of the book. He traces their family histories from the old world to the new, and sets the scene in minute detail. Life on the prairie was hard, and weather was always the thing that could unravel the dreams of stability and prosperity. But this storm was different. Cutting a wide swath across the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Minnesota it left hundreds dead--many schoolchildren who were caught in the blizzard on their way home from school. This book is very engaging and provides a slice of history that is unique: the history of weather forecasting. Once a responsibility of the US Army, we see that politics and bureaucracy were no different in the 1880's than they are today. It is sad to think that the "system" was unable to deliver warning to the populace of the impending storm. The toll was so terrible that at least one historian mused that perhaps it was a mistake to encourage people to homestead on the prairie. Nebraskans and prairie dwellers and all lovers of history will appreciate this suspenseful and unforgettable blizzard story.

  8. 5 out of 5

    skein

    I applaud Laskin for his effort - it must be hard work to take an account of the scariest blizzard ever and turn it into a sloppy, sodden, boring mess. The blatant, sloppy mistakes early on were my first clue that all was not quite right in the state of Denmark. (For instance! Laskin quotes from Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter and mis-identifies one of the schoolgirls as Laura's sister, Mary. No, dipshit - Mary was blind and she stayed at home. Reading comprehension is key.) ... Laskin is I applaud Laskin for his effort - it must be hard work to take an account of the scariest blizzard ever and turn it into a sloppy, sodden, boring mess. The blatant, sloppy mistakes early on were my first clue that all was not quite right in the state of Denmark. (For instance! Laskin quotes from Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter and mis-identifies one of the schoolgirls as Laura's sister, Mary. No, dipshit - Mary was blind and she stayed at home. Reading comprehension is key.) ... Laskin is one of those writers who feels like the reader should suffer just as much reading the book as the author did researching for it. So everything is included. Did you want to know about the beauty of 19-century ... wherever? Here's 3 pages on it! How about the weather forecasting apparatus of 19-c St. Paul? Have an entire chapter! Really, all that crap is crap that I can forgive. We all get a little excited over our pet subjects. What pissed me right off were the choppy, inter-twined narratives. On page 135, we left Ella keeled over in a snowdrift, apparently dead; on p. 152 we join her again, resurrected and safe. Page 136, five children walk home together; it is implied that they live. Page 161, all five children are dead. (And Laskin goes deep into obvious lies about their final conversations, their final thoughts, their final steps. What arrogant presumption.) The graphic, horrifying detail of hypothermia and frostbite, gangrene and amputations was quite a surprise, after the gosh-let's-sit-you-youngins-down-and-tell-you-a-story-about-the-olden-days paternalistic tone of the rest of the book, which - chapters of tedious meteorological detail aside - seemed to focus mainly on Our Brave Little Soldiers and Our Good Little Women, all living in the makebelieve world of longago when everyone just did their part. Two stars for a whole lot of blah, blah, blah.

  9. 5 out of 5

    booklady

    In The Children’s Blizzard David Laskin explores the January 12, 1888 ‘children’s blizzard’ which devastated an area of the United States then known as the Dakota Territory. It came to be known by this unfortunate name because of the high number of its youthful victims. Laskin begins back in the ‘Old World’ and tells of all the sacrifices, heartaches and struggles endured by the hardy folk who settled the Dakota Territory. They had already left everything behind, spent all they had, lost childre In The Children’s Blizzard David Laskin explores the January 12, 1888 ‘children’s blizzard’ which devastated an area of the United States then known as the Dakota Territory. It came to be known by this unfortunate name because of the high number of its youthful victims. Laskin begins back in the ‘Old World’ and tells of all the sacrifices, heartaches and struggles endured by the hardy folk who settled the Dakota Territory. They had already left everything behind, spent all they had, lost children, parents, spouses, homes, crops, weathered multifarious storms, and harsh winters. They weren’t neophytes when it came to tragedy or hardship; just the opposite, trouble was the norm with these people, not the exception. They were Jacob Kurtz and Lena Woebbecke, Frederick Milbier and Miss Hunt, Addie Knieriem and John Jensen just to name a few. Their individual and family struggles are indeed poignant and haunting. Yet when the storm of 1888 hit these people, this was something altogether different. It came so fast and so hard and after a day of deceptively warm weather, it caught everyone by surprise, resulting in grotesque deaths and suffering beyond anything they had ever yet seen or hoped to see again. The aftermath was almost as bad. Although an exact death toll has never been agreed upon, it is estimated at somewhere between 250 and 500. On page 254, Laskin writes, “Today a “surprise” storm that killed over two hundred people would instigate a fierce outcry in the press, vigorous official hand-wringing, and a flood of reports by every government agency remotely involved starting with the National Weather Service. But in the Gilded Age blame for the suffering attendant on an act of God was left unassigned. ... Heroes were called for not culprits.” Not that they did any better job of selecting the real heroes than we do today, if you consider that most of the ‘real’ heroes weren’t there to receive any type of earthly award. During the 1880’s meteorology was just emerging as a science—when forecasts known as ‘indications’ predicted things like ‘cold waves’; the term ‘front’ was still 32 years in the future, coming only after a World War I soldier saw similarity between the two movements. The Blizzard of January 12, 1888 marked a turning point in Dakota history. There were other storms and other natural disasters, but attitudes changed after that. The optimism was gone. People had seen the land for what it really was. Migration into the area leveled off after that and the great exodus began. Although there have been a few small populations growth periods, for the most part, the area has never recovered, or then again, maybe it has. A sobering but extremely well-written book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Julie Durnell

    This book was an astonishing history and chronicle of this monstrous blizzard in 1888. The author goes in depth to the emigrant Homesteading stories and background of the Signal Corps now known as the National Weather Service. It is fascinating reading but left me heavy hearted at the toll of lives lost, so many of them children.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    Children’s Blizzard This was part of my Winter 2013 DISASTER! Themed read. I don’t know where to start. You can read about disasters, and frequently, they’re off in remote mountains- the Andes, the Himalayans, etc., and this geographical distance creates a buffer between the reader and the book. You feel terrible for the people going through the ordeal, you can sympathize with their pain, but even if you’ve been in mountains it’s hard to imagine the remoteness and the vastness of some of those ec Children’s Blizzard This was part of my Winter 2013 DISASTER! Themed read. I don’t know where to start. You can read about disasters, and frequently, they’re off in remote mountains- the Andes, the Himalayans, etc., and this geographical distance creates a buffer between the reader and the book. You feel terrible for the people going through the ordeal, you can sympathize with their pain, but even if you’ve been in mountains it’s hard to imagine the remoteness and the vastness of some of those ecological systems. Then you read a book about home. Home, for me, is the plains. I was born and bred into Nebraska culture, and other than a 5 year respite in North Carolina, I’ve been in Nebraska and will be in Nebraska for the rest of my life. In reading this book about the blizzard that left hundreds of school children dead on the plains of Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota, it was very, startlingly real. You see, other places, like Chicago, or the South, has changed so much. The population of the prairie has grown, we have buildings made out of concrete and not sod, but so much is still the same. People can still die in blizzards, it happened last year. If your car is stranded on the highway in a blizzard, then there isn’t going to be relief for miles around. There are still stretches of fields where you can’t see a single building. You can be very much on your own here. Then there is the culture, we are still very very German and Scandinavian. We help ourselves, and then our neighbors (when they need it but before they have to ask for it, so we don’t insult their honor), we are insular, we are thrifty, we are reserved (except on Husker game day Saturdays), we are strong and we know how to do things ourselves. And we are almost always ready, prepared, and waiting for the other shoe to drop. I didn’t realize this about us until I moved to the South. No one in North Carolina ever had jumper cables, and I had cables that could nearly stretch 20 feet, because when it’s THAT cold outside you don’t have minutes to maneuver your cars closer. If you’ve got someone that can give you a jump, you take it, and no one wants to dick around. To see that same culture struggle in the face of this blizzard, to hear the names of towns where I’ve been, and to see last names of people who I know, who I have to wonder, was this your ancestor? Was I just privy to family disaster? My family didn’t immigrate to America until much later, but my husband’s family would have been here, farming right where we are farming now. The Cooks, Eckhardts, and Heuertz would have been here. They were Germans from Russia, they usually came as a whole town, and now I cannot help but ask them next time I see them, “do you know who died? Someone had to have. There didn’t seem to be a family that wasn’t touched. Was you grandpa missing fingers? An ear? Did he die trying to reach the cattle? Do you know how they made it through? What’s more impressive is that people stayed. They stayed through drought followed by hail storms and tornadoes, through blizzards that gave way to prairie fires and storms of locusts. They stayed because this was their land, and they’d never have a chance to own land this fertile and tillable again. They put their blood and sweat into this ground, and it kept taking, it took their food, their energy, their sons and daughters. But they were not going to leave. And now, this is our land. I can go to sleep at night behind walls that aren’t going to blow away, under a ceiling made of more than sod so that snakes and voles don’t drop onto me out of the blue, but I can still hear that wind howling and roaring across the plains, never ceasing, always crying. Some things don’t change. To read my review of my Natural Disaster Themed read which included 10 different disaster books click link: Here! …. I realize this might be more of a review of the prairie than of the book. The book was excellent. It will show you how we still are, and it will make you appreciate homesteading and pioneering like nothing else can. It’s a must read for weather aficionados. It was a great book, brilliantly researched, poignantly told, and, I thought, put together in a fine manner. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/08/mag... I highly recommend the above article and pictures.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Grumpus

    I have had this on my to-read shelf forever. While the premise sounded appealing, less than stellar reviews kept it low on my list. Note to self, go with your gut feelings. While searching the library for my next read, I discovered this was available while other newer releases of interest had many holds. This is how I came to bring it home. First off, I want to mention that it seemed eerie to be reading this on the January dates in which this event took place nearly 130 years ago. Understanding I have had this on my to-read shelf forever. While the premise sounded appealing, less than stellar reviews kept it low on my list. Note to self, go with your gut feelings. While searching the library for my next read, I discovered this was available while other newer releases of interest had many holds. This is how I came to bring it home. First off, I want to mention that it seemed eerie to be reading this on the January dates in which this event took place nearly 130 years ago. Understanding the background and families involved plus the drama of the history plus scientific insights combine to make this a five star read. The author did a great job of providing background of the families involved. Their immigration stories from the lives they left behind for a brighter future are simultaneously harrowing and heartwarming. So many died en route to their destination and once there, life was very difficult and not as most had envisioned. As you get to know these families and how difficult their lives have been up to this point, the reader can’t help but wonder which will die and which will survive. Obviously, anyone reading this book knows the outcome of the book at a macro level but, there is much drama as they go about their lives that fateful unsuspecting day at the micro level. You know what will happen but, you don’t want to know and experience that loss. I also found the science a most appealing aside to the history. Much was made about the history of meteorology in the United States and forecasting capabilities back in the days of the telegraph. We have come so far in our capabilities, accuracy, and ability to forewarn of impending danger. There was also great detail on what happens to the human body as it experiences cold, turning into frostbite, and eventually resulting in death. The author does a noteworthy job of putting the reading along the side of these children as they experience and endure their tribulations. You can’t help but get emotionally involved reading about them hoping beyond hope that they will survive.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Carrie

    I have come to realize that, while most of what I read is fiction, that one of my favorite kind of books are non-fiction stories that are written like novels, particularly stories about unknown or underreported events in American history. I'm fascinated by books such as Stewart O'Nan's The Circus Fire, the story of the 1942 Hartford Circus fire and Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven about the fringe extremist Mormon groups. This book was along those lines, and I gobbled it up. It tells the I have come to realize that, while most of what I read is fiction, that one of my favorite kind of books are non-fiction stories that are written like novels, particularly stories about unknown or underreported events in American history. I'm fascinated by books such as Stewart O'Nan's The Circus Fire, the story of the 1942 Hartford Circus fire and Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven about the fringe extremist Mormon groups. This book was along those lines, and I gobbled it up. It tells the story of a freak blizzard that hit the Midwest in 1888, coming on so cold and so hard that it killed hundreds of people who got caught outside on the prairie and, because visibility was so bad and the winds were so hard, were unable to make it back to their homes. Many people died only feet from their door, literally unable to see their hands before their faces. It was called the “Children’s Blizzard” because so many of the dead were children who got lost on their way home from school. The story is unbeatable. The book is pretty good. It spends a lot of pages detailing the science of the blizzard and why that particular storm hit so hard. I found these sections slightly difficult to follow, which may have more to do with my limited interest in meteorology than Mr. Laskin’s writing ability, but it made the reading a bit of a slog. However, I found the parts about the impact of the blizzard on the prairie towns, and on how people did (and more often did not) survive the storm to be fascinating. He describes the storm so that you feel like you’ve lived through it, and the book made me understand in a way that that few other books have not, how hard and tenuous life was for these Dakota and Nebraska homesteaders and immigrants

  14. 4 out of 5

    Book Concierge

    Audiobook read by Paul Woodson On January 12, 1888 a massive cold front brought plummeting temperatures, gale-force winds, and blinding snow to the northern plains. The day had started out unseasonably mild, and children walked to school without their usual heavy coats, gloves and hats. Caught completely unawares and unprepared many of them died in the blizzard that is still talked about in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Minnesota. Laskin has pieced together the stories of several immigrant families Audiobook read by Paul Woodson On January 12, 1888 a massive cold front brought plummeting temperatures, gale-force winds, and blinding snow to the northern plains. The day had started out unseasonably mild, and children walked to school without their usual heavy coats, gloves and hats. Caught completely unawares and unprepared many of them died in the blizzard that is still talked about in the Dakotas, Nebraska and Minnesota. Laskin has pieced together the stories of several immigrant families and what happened to them during the two days of the storm. There are stories of heroism and determination. Children who kept their heads and found shelter. Teachers who shepherded their classes to safety. Men and women who died searching for their livestock. Many who survived the initial storm and exposure, later died of complications – gangrene that resulted from severe frostbite, or heart arrhythmias that caught them unawares. It’s a gripping tale, told masterfully. Paul Woodson does a fine job reading the audiobook. He sets a good pace and his narration held my attention throughout.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Audrey

    The event: blizzard of the centuryyyyy! ("-y! -y! -y! -y!") The place: the US Great Plains, but mostly what's now the Dakotas, bless them. The time: the weird and wild 19th century. The victims: between 200 and 1,000 immigrant settlers, many of them children, hence with the calling of this blizzard The School Children's Blizzard. Also the nascent National Weather Service, who got blamed for everything. (Content warning, in case it's not clear: child death). There's quite a bit of historical documenta The event: blizzard of the centuryyyyy! ("-y! -y! -y! -y!") The place: the US Great Plains, but mostly what's now the Dakotas, bless them. The time: the weird and wild 19th century. The victims: between 200 and 1,000 immigrant settlers, many of them children, hence with the calling of this blizzard The School Children's Blizzard. Also the nascent National Weather Service, who got blamed for everything. (Content warning, in case it's not clear: child death). There's quite a bit of historical documentation of the event in question, and the author uses a ton of it to painstakingly recreate the lives and deaths of a handful of the children involved, as well as the events that led them to the Great Plains (poverty and religious intolerance in Eastern Europe) and the events that led the National Weather Service to misplace an entire blizzard (political infighting and failed telegraph wires). And all the backstories are so interesting. So very interesting. The accounts of the perilous transatlantic crossings and train rides into the middle of unplowed nowhere. The depiction of desolation on the um, "unpopulated" Great Plains. What it took to build a sod house, and what it was like to live in one, including having gophers and snakes shoot out of the walls at you unexpectedly. The desolation due to harsh winters. The desolation due to locusts, swarms of. I say "unpopulated" because the author doesn't really address why all the European immigrants found a great swath of open land to homestead, instead of, say, many nations of Native Americans. He does mention at one point that the Dakota Sioux had "retreated to a reservation" which was kind of them, I guess. Kind of glosses over the genocide, though. He also remarks at one point how terrible it was that the settlers had no idea what the land would be like, and no education or training in how to cope with the vagaries of the Great Plains ecosphere. BUMMER THERE WASN'T ANYONE AROUND WHO KNEW ALL ABOUT THAT, EH? (shouty-caps mine). There's also a fair bit of supposition the author does in terms of what the children's last moments were like, that he put together by interviewing doctors and scientists specializing in the field of frostbite and cold-related deaths, and that whole section treads a fine line between morbid and fascinating. I now know waaaay more about cold-related injuries and death than I did before I read the book, and I live in northern Vermont, for pete's sake. What struck me most, however, is how well the author told the tale of the National Weather Service, then called the Signal Corps, and which, at the time of blizzard, was just making in-roads into Saint Paul, Minnesota. Turns out that there were already a handful of non-governmental weathermen already in Saint Paul, a-cheerfully fleecing all and sundry with their weather-indicating schemes, and they didn't love the government's weather service rolling into town and telling them to knock it off, or at least keep it just this side of the law enough to cooperate with the government. I won't spoil that section for you, but some of the backstory involves an ill-fated Arctic expedition that -- surprise! -- devolved into cannibalism. (Why does no one ever see that coming?) There are also painstakingly detailed and interesting sections on how blizzards work, complete with simple analogies for those of us without a meteorology background. I really liked it. But then again, I'm a sucker for 19th century US weirdness. That said, I enjoyed the whole book. It really is an effective storytelling technique to introduce us to a handful of children and their families, because the deaths are meaningful that way, and it's incredibly hard for us to wrap our heads around a multitude of deaths without seeing it in miniature. The whole thing ends on a somewhat unfortunate note, however, as everything's wrapped up with an extended waffle on how The School Children's Blizzard wasn't just a disaster that killed a bunch of schoolchildren, but that the entire settling of the Great Plains was a disaster for children, as they were pressed into service in plowing and planting and bopping gophers on the head when they came flying out of sod walls, and how sad it all was that unlike everyone else, these children had no childhood. Whereupon 19th century urchins in coal mines, mills, construction and pretty much every other industry looked up sharply. Still, a great read (she said, watching the snow flurries outside with a newly nervous eye.)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    A very disappointing read given the true nature of the Blizzard of 1888 , which had all the elements of Shakspearean tragedy: a fierce, raging storm descends upon the prairie states at exactly the worst time,in the afternoon of an unseasonably warm day in which many children had gone to school poorly dressed and folks were working in their fields without warm clothing. Added to that was the fact that many of the people afflicted were recent immigrants to the plains, who had had little experience A very disappointing read given the true nature of the Blizzard of 1888 , which had all the elements of Shakspearean tragedy: a fierce, raging storm descends upon the prairie states at exactly the worst time,in the afternoon of an unseasonably warm day in which many children had gone to school poorly dressed and folks were working in their fields without warm clothing. Added to that was the fact that many of the people afflicted were recent immigrants to the plains, who had had little experience with harsh midwestern winters Like lambs to the slaughter, you can feel their innocence and pluck steering them straight into darkness..What goes wrong here is that Laskin pads the history with deadeningly dull and detailed meterological information(impossible for anyone but a degreed weatherman to decipher), plus the inside working of the young US weather agency,plus the minutiae of back-story on the villages the pioneers came from,throwing name after name into the mix so that one can't come to know any of the individuals as fully fleshed people,plus speculation as to the thoughts and feelings of people who actually died, and then as a finale adds gruesome descriptions of how the human body implodes while freezing to death and after undergoing frostbite. The overall effect of this book is that of sensationalizing a true tragedy, without showing sufficient respect and compassion for the people and the communities who lived it.If I were a living descendent of one of the children whose agonizing death by hypothermia was so vividly and horrifically depicted, I would be indignant that this poor child's demise is only used to add dramatic flair. This book was calculated to attract attention,sell briskly and be made into movies/documentaries.There is no heart in this,only ego and greed.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Libby

    I'm sorry to say this book really didn't work for me. For 140 pages, it's mostly meteorology and meteorological history. 140 pages of science, the drop in temperature how many degrees, in how many minutes, how barometric pressure affects weather patterns, what is a cold wave, how snow particles are affected by wind. I found it incredibly tough reading, distracting me and putting me off from the human part of the story, which is what I cared about. Imagine the movie "A Perfect Storm" if it had sp I'm sorry to say this book really didn't work for me. For 140 pages, it's mostly meteorology and meteorological history. 140 pages of science, the drop in temperature how many degrees, in how many minutes, how barometric pressure affects weather patterns, what is a cold wave, how snow particles are affected by wind. I found it incredibly tough reading, distracting me and putting me off from the human part of the story, which is what I cared about. Imagine the movie "A Perfect Storm" if it had spent the first hour or more of the film (about half) explaining meteorological phenomena. When we finally start to hear about the blizzard, on about page 143, the book improves slightly, but the stories are gruesome, of course. There are many characters to keep straight. And I found myself wondering how the author "knew" that panicky sweat rolled down someone's back--someone who had died alone in the blizzard, and couldn't have recorded that fact. I also felt manipulated emotionally, and I didn't enjoy that. Instead of telling a character's complete story in one fell swoop, the author chose to tell part, and leave it at sort of a cliffhanger place (does this person survive, or not? read on!) and switch focus to another character, and another, and another. Then circle back to pick up the story on each character. Huge turnoff for me. Worst, after spending quite a lot of time and effort slogging through the meteorology, it felt like wasted time, as my now slightly increased knowledge of weather science didn't add, at all, to my interest in the human stories Mr. Laskin tells here. By the time I got to the human stories, I just kind of felt jerked around, and was very glad to finally close the book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Peggy

    The children's blizard of 1888 is a well researched and well written book. On Jan. 12, 1888, the sun came up on a beautiful day with moderating temperatures in the Dakotas and Minnesota. Many children went to scholl without their boots, hats, gloves and warm coats. Mary farmers ventured out to work on projects away from the farms. In the early afternoon, the weather made a dramatic change, from warm and sunny to a blizzard. Many children were either trapped at school or caught in the blizzard as The children's blizard of 1888 is a well researched and well written book. On Jan. 12, 1888, the sun came up on a beautiful day with moderating temperatures in the Dakotas and Minnesota. Many children went to scholl without their boots, hats, gloves and warm coats. Mary farmers ventured out to work on projects away from the farms. In the early afternoon, the weather made a dramatic change, from warm and sunny to a blizzard. Many children were either trapped at school or caught in the blizzard as they made thier way home. This is the story of their plights. Some teachers refused to let the children leave the schoolhouses. This seemed to be a wise decision at first, but as the blizzard increased in intensity, the scools ran out of wood and literally disintegrated in the wind. The bravery of many of the teachers save the lives of many of their students, but this was still a tragedy since many lives were lost. Many people froze to death in their tracks. Some farmers and school children were able to save themselves by burrowing into corn schalks. Some children were found the next moring frozen to the ground and miraculously still alive. This was a well written and researched story. I enjoyed the book very much since I like a book about history or weather and this was both.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    The topic is fascinating; the research seems to have been thorough. I have given the book a low rating because this is presented as a non-fiction book. Laskin does not indicate in the text when dialogues and monologues are based on fact and when they are a flight of his fancy. He explains in the end notes that his understanding of the victim's culture or faith gives him the right to assign words and thoughts to a dying person. It doesn't. I would be very upset if any of them were my relatives. T The topic is fascinating; the research seems to have been thorough. I have given the book a low rating because this is presented as a non-fiction book. Laskin does not indicate in the text when dialogues and monologues are based on fact and when they are a flight of his fancy. He explains in the end notes that his understanding of the victim's culture or faith gives him the right to assign words and thoughts to a dying person. It doesn't. I would be very upset if any of them were my relatives. There is also at least one long and unattributed direct quote. For me, he broke the trust relationship that should exist between the author and the reader of non-fiction. I'm surprised this won awards.

  20. 4 out of 5

    ☆Ruth☆

    A very interesting but tragic event in American history. This book would have really benefited from good editing! The narrative jumps about too much and gets far too bogged down in technical weather data. There is also a great deal of extraneous information, which I found frustrating. That said if you can cope with these irritations it's worth reading for the human interest and the fascinating historical background details describing the dreadful trials and tribulations of the early settlers on A very interesting but tragic event in American history. This book would have really benefited from good editing! The narrative jumps about too much and gets far too bogged down in technical weather data. There is also a great deal of extraneous information, which I found frustrating. That said if you can cope with these irritations it's worth reading for the human interest and the fascinating historical background details describing the dreadful trials and tribulations of the early settlers on the prairie.... a pity there wasn't more content on this aspect of the book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    I would actually rate this 2.5 if possible. An interesting, albeit tragic story, is turned into a boring, redundant mess that continuously quotes wind velocity and temperatures ad nauseam. It is the human element which is worth repeating.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Linda Johnson

    This book appealed to me because I grew up in rural North Dakota and survived many a blizzard growing up and also because my ancestors immigrated from Norway, Denmark and Sweden during this time. Boy I bet my grandparents and great grandparents could have told me some stories about this storm! The Dakotas, Minnesota and Nebraska attracted many immigrants with the promise of fertile farmland. These families struggled making their way to the Great Plains, many losing children along the way, only to This book appealed to me because I grew up in rural North Dakota and survived many a blizzard growing up and also because my ancestors immigrated from Norway, Denmark and Sweden during this time. Boy I bet my grandparents and great grandparents could have told me some stories about this storm! The Dakotas, Minnesota and Nebraska attracted many immigrants with the promise of fertile farmland. These families struggled making their way to the Great Plains, many losing children along the way, only to face the bitter cold winters of the region. The Children's Blizzard occurred on January 12, 1888. It was called this because so many children (More than 100) perished trying to find their way home from school. The storm caught them totally off guard and unprepared as the weather prior to the storm was warm. Weather forecasting back then wasn't what it is today, but the meteorologists of the time failed the citizens by not getting the word out quickly enough. This book left me feeling so much empathy for the families that suffered, some losing more than one child. Many, including children, lost limbs due to frostbite. The only thing I would have possibly changed about this book is less weather forecasts and more about the families. I applaud the author for all the research that went into this project.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kirsti

    "You could hardly see your hand before you or draw your breath and with the intense cold roaring wind and darkness it would appall the stoutest heart." --a farmer describing the 1888 blizzard Terms I learned while reading this book: cold stupid: mountaineer slang for the slow reaction times and uncharacteristic peevishness that signal the early stages of hypothermia paradoxical undressing: the point in late-stage hypothermia in which victims feel so hot that they begin tearing off their clothes and "You could hardly see your hand before you or draw your breath and with the intense cold roaring wind and darkness it would appall the stoutest heart." --a farmer describing the 1888 blizzard Terms I learned while reading this book: cold stupid: mountaineer slang for the slow reaction times and uncharacteristic peevishness that signal the early stages of hypothermia paradoxical undressing: the point in late-stage hypothermia in which victims feel so hot that they begin tearing off their clothes and kicking off their boots or shoes death by rescue: when hypothermia victims die from attempts to revive them; even just coming in from the cold or moving from a sitting to a standing position can stop the heart blue norther: a cold front that is so strong that it makes its way from the Arctic all the way to Texas or Oklahoma

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    I am never going to complain about a Midwest winter storm again, after reading this horrifying account of an actual blizzard that hit the Great Plains in 1988, killing scores of people, many of them children, on their way home from school. Well-researched.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Niki (nikilovestoread)

    This book is very difficult for me to rate and review. I really just don't know what I think of it because there were parts of it that I really enjoyed and parts of it I really didn't. I really enjoyed the first about 100 pages that talk a lot about the immigrants who lived in the area at the time of the 1888 blizzard and where they came from and why. (5 stars) Then, the author started describing, in long, agonizing depth, what happened in the atmosphere to create this horrible blizzard. (Seriou This book is very difficult for me to rate and review. I really just don't know what I think of it because there were parts of it that I really enjoyed and parts of it I really didn't. I really enjoyed the first about 100 pages that talk a lot about the immigrants who lived in the area at the time of the 1888 blizzard and where they came from and why. (5 stars) Then, the author started describing, in long, agonizing depth, what happened in the atmosphere to create this horrible blizzard. (Seriously, pages and pages and pages of weather.) I admittedly skimmed parts of this because it was so boring. (1 star) The story finally gets back to the storm itself and the unfortunate people who lived in the area and were caught or had loved ones caught in the storm. It was so horrific what they went through. These were the families and people we got to know in the first part of the book. So, the reader knows their history and the hardships they had already endured before this blizzard hit. We are invested in the story, as tragic as it is. (5 stars) However, when I got to the chapter that extremely vividly describes what the human body goes through when ones dies of hypothermia, the author went into way too much detail for this reader. The author tells us in depth what exactly this poor group of five boys would have suffered through when they were lost in the storm, every horrible detail about what they would have suffered as their bodies shut down and they died. It was just too much for me. (And that disgusting detail the author had to throw in about what happened to a man's body that was not found for months until things thawed. Gross and unnecessary.) (1 star) The story of Anna Kaufmann, a Ukrainian immigrant, struck me the most. I can't even remotely comprehend how she survived life. Hers was one filled with so much grief. Three of her first four children died as babies or toddlers. She went on to have four more children and then loses her oldest to this horrible blizzard. Her husband basically dies of a broken heart two years later. Then, she remarries a horrible, mean man and loses another son when his is only twenty. The book doesn't say what happened to her after that. What a tragic life she lived. My heart breaks for all she endured. You see what I mean? I really don't know what to rate this book. There were some parts of the book I really enjoyed (if that is an appropriate word for it) and others that I was so bored and disgusted by that I could not enjoy them. So many of the stories were about young children who suffered horrible deaths (hence the name of the blizzard) that it was difficult to read at times, but I did learn a lot (yes, even about weather). I think I, by far, enjoyed the beginning of the book the most when I learned about so many of the immigrants in the area and their histories.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Casey

    Gripping! And a good historical account.

  27. 4 out of 5

    K.J. Gillenwater

    I love reading about tragedies. This book caught my eye due to the title and the subject matter. A horrible blizzard in the 1800s killed and maimed many children (and adults) all across the middle of our country. It reminded me a lot of my favorite book in the Little House series, The Long Winter....and then I found out while reading "The Children's Blizzard" that Ingalls Wilder wrote about this SAME storm. Call me even more intrigued! Mr. Laskin did an amazing job researching this book. He intro I love reading about tragedies. This book caught my eye due to the title and the subject matter. A horrible blizzard in the 1800s killed and maimed many children (and adults) all across the middle of our country. It reminded me a lot of my favorite book in the Little House series, The Long Winter....and then I found out while reading "The Children's Blizzard" that Ingalls Wilder wrote about this SAME storm. Call me even more intrigued! Mr. Laskin did an amazing job researching this book. He introduces you to many families in Europe and Scandinavia who made their way to the U.S. seeking a better life. He draws on first-person accounts in letters and other documents, plus other historical data to give you a feel for the kind of people who settled the Upper Mid-West. I was drawn in immediately to the harsh conditions experienced by these immigrants - many selling everything they owned in order to get to America and the 'free land' it offered. The details about what some of these children and their teachers experience during the blizzard was shocking. Many were not dressed for the cold weather, as an unusual warm spell had settled lulling everyone into a sense of security. Weather reporting at the time was in its infancy and handled by the military. Mr. Laskin explains why this system fell apart and why no one was notified about the impending storm. Overall I very much enjoyed this book, the build up, the storm details and the aftermath was intriguing and turned the book into something I had hard time putting down. I would've given this book 5 stars, but there was a sticking point for me....the very detailed explanations of weather, weather reporting, etc. Not my thing. It was rather boring to slog through those portions to get to the interesting stuff: school children trapped outside in a blinding blizzard in below zero conditions with almost no winter gear huddling in haystacks or behind any barrier they could find to survive. Isobars and weather reporting politics caused the pace to drag. But if you are a weather bug, you will probably enjoy those parts. Highly recommended for those who enjoy true life stories of settlers in the U.S. Riveting!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Evanston Public Library

    Does it look like snow outside? Chicagoans are by no means strangers to the extremes of weather. Furious winds, bitter cold, icy roads, piles of snow, massive drifts, endless hours of shoveling, “dibs” on dug-out parking spaces, and the exhaustion in dealing with it all form the list of gripes we all have with winter. But Laskin’s moving account of a spectacular and devastating blizzard on January 12, 1888, followed by a record-breaking cold front will have you thanking your lucky stars you live Does it look like snow outside? Chicagoans are by no means strangers to the extremes of weather. Furious winds, bitter cold, icy roads, piles of snow, massive drifts, endless hours of shoveling, “dibs” on dug-out parking spaces, and the exhaustion in dealing with it all form the list of gripes we all have with winter. But Laskin’s moving account of a spectacular and devastating blizzard on January 12, 1888, followed by a record-breaking cold front will have you thanking your lucky stars you live in an era of nearly perfect weather prediction, central heating, down coats, and microwaveable cocoa. Laskin’s novelistic writing style gives us a picture of the immigrants who came to settle the prairie states. We meet the families, learn how they journeyed here, and how they struggled to make a life in the harsh environment. Laskin also presents the story of the nascent U.S. Weather Service, managed by the Army Signal Corps. With the growing understanding of weather patterns, improved record keeping, and the advances in telegraphy during the last decades, the Corps overestimated their forecasting skills to predict, or “indicate” as they called it then, sudden weather changes. Jan. 12th dawned as an unusually mild morning after weeks of frigid cold. The sun shone, the temperature rose into the mid-40s, and many of the farm kids went to school that day after being confined at home. The storm struck suddenly and fiercely, catching farmers at work outdoors, and trapping the children in their tiny schools where their teachers, often young women just barely out of childhood themselves, were faced with staying put with minimal heating resources and no food, or sending the students home on a trek through deeply ravined territory with no protection and homesteads set far apart. With Laskin’s suspenseful telling, we follow their harrowing, moment-by-moment experiences on the day of the storm and the heartbreaking events in its aftermath. (Barbara L., Reader’s Services)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    In January of 1888, a terrible blizzard, which came to be known as the "Schoolchildren’s Blizzard" blew in across the Nebraska & Dakota Territory prairie. It was so-called because the deaths from the blizzard were largely of children who left school because of the bad weather coming. Sadly, they left "at the moment when the wind shifted and the sky exploded (2)." Using a wide variety of sources, Laskin has put together this account of that fateful day, but the book is much more than just a retel In January of 1888, a terrible blizzard, which came to be known as the "Schoolchildren’s Blizzard" blew in across the Nebraska & Dakota Territory prairie. It was so-called because the deaths from the blizzard were largely of children who left school because of the bad weather coming. Sadly, they left "at the moment when the wind shifted and the sky exploded (2)." Using a wide variety of sources, Laskin has put together this account of that fateful day, but the book is much more than just a retelling of the event. He also details other immigrants' experiences such as tough crossings, and the often difficult life once they reached the Dakota territory. Laskin also discusses the state of weather forecasting at the time, and asks some pretty pointed questions about the issue of fault during the course of a natural disaster. I think a lot of people would also agree that the book is a definite statement on the power of nature and the horror it can inflict when people are unprepared (not that people can always be prepared for natural disasters). I'd definitely recommend this to people who like history in focused, short bursts (like this book or along the lines of something like Isaac's Storm) rather than out of texts. The only part where it even felt a bit boggy was the discussion on the history of weather forecasting, but that didn't really detract from my reading. If you're also interested in life on the plains, this is a good one to read as well. Very well written -- I couldn't stop reading it once I started.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Karla

    This was my second time through reading this book---both times for book clubs. Geez, I wish I retained things better. The only thing I retain is water. Part of me really enjoyed this book. I found myself really interested in the five families the author concentrated on, their immigration journeys, their decisions to travel to the prairies. But what about the Native Americans? Seems to me that there must have been a sizeable number of them on the prairies and I don't remember a word about them. An This was my second time through reading this book---both times for book clubs. Geez, I wish I retained things better. The only thing I retain is water. Part of me really enjoyed this book. I found myself really interested in the five families the author concentrated on, their immigration journeys, their decisions to travel to the prairies. But what about the Native Americans? Seems to me that there must have been a sizeable number of them on the prairies and I don't remember a word about them. Another thing that bothered be about the book was the author's descriptions of the final moments before death of some of the people. Was he there? Were police methods so exact at that time that they could recreate the scene of death, knowing that the boys were carrying the younger ones on their backs, etc. Everyone in the book club said that their eyes glazed over when reading page after page of weather description. Still, it made for an exciting read and gave a renewed appreciation for what the settlers of the land had to endure.

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